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On November 18, a deadly fire in Daxing, Beijing caused the death of 19 people. DaXing is an area mostly inhabited by migrant workers. The estate concerned is a typical structure that combines commercial production, storage, and housing functions in one facility. A compact living environment, alongside accumulation of unorganised debris, indirectly propagated this tragedy. Following the incident, the Beijing authority established a city-wide movement to clear those living around the periphery.
The “Low-end Population” is coined to describe migrant workers in Beijing, most of whom in low-income occupations such as construction, delivery, sanitation, and security. While many arrived in pursuit of economic opportunities, they have been heavily restricted by the Chinese Hukou system; a local registration system that limit access to education, healthcare, and labour rights in other provinces. Beijing has denied referring to these migrant workers as part of a “Low-end Population”, yet the phrase has been in use in government documents since 2007 and even in “common-folk” propaganda slogans.
In 2012, Beijing had a foreign population of 7.74 million people, which made up 37% of the residential population. In view of the pressure on political security from increased population inflow, coupled with the needs to restructure the industries to accommodate the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei Collaborative Development proposal, Xi Jinping demanded the modification and alleviation of non-core functions in Beijing. It was also decided that the upper limit of the permanently residing population of Beijing to be 23 million. Since then, the Beijing authority, on one hand, tighten the Hukou policy, lifting up the requirements for children without a Beijing account from entering schools; on the other hand, closing down small businesses owned by non-Beijing residents.
Following the incident at DaXing, Beijing has resulted to violence in evicting the “Low-end Population”, uncovering these long-standing conflicts to the public. The authorities cut-off water, electricity, and fuel supplies, and threatened with violence to illegally demand the “Low-end Population” to leave their residence within 3 days. Certain eager civilians have initiated projects to support the migrant workers, but were put to a swift end by the authorities. This act not only caught the attention of foreign media, but also led to over 3000 intellectuals joining forces to demand the authorities deal with this “atrocious issue that is anti-constitutional and is a serious violation human rights”.
This winter, Beijing not only faces the dangers of the deportation of the “Low-end Population”. Shortages of natural gas supplies for heating and assorted policies like the large-scale destruction of billboards have left Beijingers in agony. Following the 19th NCCPC, society looks to be in a state of prosperity; yet hidden beneath the apparent joys.